Unconsious Bias and Institutional racism within Primary School.

This article is based on the experiences of myself and my daughter in relationship to my granddaughter.

Recently we had no choice but to withdraw my granddaughter from her school. She has started a new school, leaving behind friends and also some great teachers, but the circumstances did not permit us to continue in a school where we were not listened to and where the covert racism of the Headteacher was seemingly unquestioned and unchallenged.

The purpose of this article is to raise awarenes. I intend to demonstrate how at the young and tender age of 6, colonial, white saviour attitudes as a response to statistical evidence nationally that Afro-Caribbean Children are not performing as well as their piers, can spiral into making covertly racist judgements about a demographic of children. This is the official beginning of a life time of experiences of Covert Racism within educational establishments and then in the work place. I use the term Bame, only because of the usage by the school, despite the fact that it is problematic.

We are also interested to know if there are other parents and carers who have experienced something similar and who would like to share their experiences with me. You can write to me at length or simply and fill in the form at the end of this article. I would love to hear from you.

Let me set the scene. The school in question is in an affluent area in North London where it is unlikely that, in general the children will come from deprived backgrounds. The school has no class teachers of colour despite the fact that the pupils are from diverse backgrounds. The sports teacher is the only black teacher in a position of authority and there are helpers within the school who are Black.

This is our experience.

In the spring term of 2019, my granddaughter, who was 6 at the time, was invited to take part in a “Lullaby Project” . We were told that she was selected because of her musical ability. The parents were invited to a meeting with the musicians which I attended with with my granddaughter. I was taken aback when I realised that all the children were Black/ Mixed heritage. The musicians were white, male. I thought it was strange that there were no white children within the selected group and after the meeting I discussed this with my daughter.  We approached the school and asked why there were no white children. We asked them again to explain why our child had been selected and was it because she is black. It was confirmed that they were targeting “Bame” children. We were appalled and eventually withdrew my granddaughter from the project.

After much research and time spent reading and talking to various academics and teachers, I wrote the following letter: ( edited for the purpose of this article)

19th March 2019

……..  There are quite a few major and important issues we would like to address and disagreements we have regarding the process of selection and the reasons behind it. We are addressing our concerns to the school, however, we also feel that the organisation behind the project need to be contacted with regards to their criteria and who they have chosen to deliver the project. Furthermore, those that are funding these projects need to be made aware that with all good intention, this project targeting so called “Bame” individuals in schools, by positively discriminating is inadvertently racist, especially since those delivering the workshops are not “Bame”. They are white. This is hugely problematic. We would like to address various points one by one.

  1. TRANSPARENCY:  Our greatest concern is the fact that you divulged to us that our child was chosen to take part in this project based on the colour of her skin and ethnic background after we had agreed to take part. You responded in your email that the children’s race was the first point of call and connection to music was secondary.  We were initially told that she was chosen because she is musically inclined. The true agenda was disclosed after we asked what the agenda was and not before she was invited. We don’t understand why parents were not told about the reasons behind selection or consulted regarding the selection process. We felt patronised and after the receipt of your last email we also both felt upset. In particular, the idea that we are lucky to be chosen was offensive and we feel that we don’t want to be told what is good for our children. [1]We believe that as parents of so called “ Bame” children, we probably have a better understanding of what to offer our children in order to empower them.
  2. BAME:  There are also issues regarding the statistics quoted in your letter: You say in your letter that:   “  attainment of BAME children is a significant concern, both nationally and locally. Therefore, raising the attainment of BAME children, as a group, is a priority area on the school’s development plan for this year.”

  . Basing selection on the colour of the child’s skin is hugely problematic. It is not taking into account other factors. Using “Bame” as a Blanket term has limitations and actually can be quite damaging in that it does not recognise that certain communities actually overachieve. As the article below suggests,[2] you cannot make blanket statements, cultural background, values and class also affect how children perform. Furthermore, judging children on the basis of race alone, is effectively predisposing teachers to make value judgements about these children. Value judgements can take the form of racial stereotyping[3] and it often happens unconsciously. Please also be aware that there is much evidence to suggest that when it comes to certain groups of children, racial stereotyping does come into play, and this can cause what is known as A Self- Fulfilling prophecy. We would like to point out in the case of our child, that she is not an under achiever, we don’t want her labelled because of her skin colour and ethnic background and that her mother and grandmother are both educated to Post degree level. We are very concerned that on being labelled, she will begin to lose confidence if she is subjected to this kind of singling out on a regular basis, based solely on the colour of her skin. Furthermore, we would like to understand that if the category is BAME, and not focusing on children of African/Afro-Caribbean ancestry only, why were there no Asian children in the group? BAME includes Asian and other so called “minority” groups. as a point of reference. I understand that you are prioritising Afro-Caribbean children ( extended to all Black Children), but then it is important to understand that BAME perhaps is not a term you should be using and that clarity is important with regards to your Agenda.

PUSHING FOR ACHIEVEMENT FOR BAME CHILDREN: We are both in agreement in the wish for our children to be over achievers and not under achievers, however we disagree vehemently on how this can be achieved.

We do not believe that using positive discrimination in favour of Bame children will work if you are selecting children based on race. In addition, if you are not using positive discrimination in the workplace, and in the projects that are being delivered to this group of children, how is positive discrimination supposed to work?  Why are the musicians that are working with an all-black group of children, white? Where are the role models? What is being taught in the curriculum, where are the faces that these children can identify with? There are many points to be addressed and one of them is the fact that you cannot expect children to perform well in schools if, as a group, they are ignored within the curriculum and if they are not being represented. We are aware that at the school, although there are various helpers of colour, there does not seem to be any teachers that hold authority from BAME backgrounds.   Secondly, if they do not have role models and authority figures presented to them, in their everyday lives what message is that sending out. Those delivering “the lullaby project” are both white men. This is clearly problematic. We don’t understand why white musicians have been chosen to work with all black groups of children. Representation of the BAME category and how these representations are presented is of great importance. We understand that this is a huge responsibility and change of mindset and that will not happen overnight, but schools and those in positions of authority can make changes if they are consulting with those that are affected by Racism and racial stereotyping. This will not happen if those in authority assume and impose  what they think will work. Changes need to be made at the top downwards not the other way around. What has jumped out to me immediately after the introductory meeting, reading about the project and your email  was this is a  clear case of   “white saviour complex” for want of a better term  and missionary style teaching whereby white teachers, and enablers come in  to “ teach and save” black children and black communities.[4]

  • What to do now:  I understand the importance of using the arts as a tool for education.  As a musician myself, working in the area of community music, I am well aware of the empowerment that music can bring.  However, coming into a group where there is no real background information regarding selection and coming to the realisation at the introductory meeting  that children were picked because of their racial background, was shocking to me and I felt immediately defensive and indeed patronised. If we knew from the beginning what the agenda was, it is possible that we would not have agreed on her involvement. My daughter has signed a form allowing our child to commit to the project, but she has done so without having any information about the project, and as I attended the first meeting, I was none the wiser and came away from the meeting feeling deeply suspicious. We do not understand how a project like this can raise achievement amongst, so called BAME children. Our child, is not underprivileged and has been fortunate in being encouraged outside of school in many musical projects.  She has also had a whole album dedicated to her [5] where 16 songs were recorded and sung in ten different languages according to her mixed heritage. These songs were performed by Artists that share her mixed heritage in the Venue Rich Mix, where she was guest of honour.[6]  Acknowledging  heritage is empowering and that is the sort of project that schools should be aiming towards and not only within Black History Month.  In addition, Black History, as Paul Gilroy pointed out recently, is all our history and we need to be incorporating History and Heritage from the BAME community within our own curriculum for the benefit of all.

  • Meetings and ideas surrounding this topic. Surely it is important for further projects to include parents in the consultation. Is it possible also to form a working group with consultants from the so called Bame Community?

 Thank you for reading. I hope these points can be used as a discussion for future endeavours in the school and we hope that our concerns are taken seriously.

I also wrote to the organisation ( at the time, it was an all white organisation working in Haringey which describes their work as reaching out to hard to reach families, problamatic in itself.) that supplied the musicians for the “Lullaby Project“. They were unaware that the children had been selected based on race. On receipt of the above letter, the head, invited us to discuss our concerns with him in his office and we accepted his invitation. By this time, the “Lullaby Project” had been completed.  During the meeting he acknowledged our worries and concerns. He also stated the fact that he did feel that maybe he had made a mistake when he attended the end of project get together. He observed the fact that all the teachers were white, and all the parents and children were black. We felt that we had been listened to and was hoping that this scenario would not happen again.

Can you imagine our horror, when this year, during the summer term, 2021, our child was invited to be part of an art enrichment project? This time, it was specified that the children chosen were from “Our Black Caribbean Community”. The artist that was chosen was again a White Artist. It was almost a replica of the project that took place two years ago. The Lullaby Project entailed two white male musicians going in to discuss the experiences of a group of Black Children and then writing lullabies for them. This time it was a White female artist going in and investigating Black children about their experiences during Lock down and then doing something arts based.  Both myself and my daughter were mortified. We did not understand why the school had chosen to segregate the children again! I asked what the purposes were, the aims and objectives of the project and what  they hoped to achieve, three times. I received NO adequate response from the head. What I was told was that a group of Staff and Governors had been set up to deal with diversity and Inclusion., I tried to get some answers to my questions, and finally in the last email, I received this response from the Head;


‘Really just to say that I genuinely do understand your frustration and acknowledge that this project has not been handled well by the school. From my perspective, this was never intended to be a project about the Black Caribbean experience of lockdown, more an art enrichment opportunity for which the school prioritised children of Black and Mixed Caribbean heritage. In response to your question, I would argue that any enrichment experience may well benefit child regardless of their background, however I acknowledge that on this one we got it wrong.

I could not believe this response. It shows how inadequate the head’s understanding of racism is, and a complete disregard of our conversation and concerns two years ago. Furthermore, the question still had not been addressed, as to why those of Black and Mixed Caribbean heritage were chosen for the project. If the Head does not believe that it matters what colour the arts teacher is with regards to this project, why on earth should it matter what the colour of the children are?  Why are assumptions made about our children? Why does the Head believe that children of Black and mixed Caribbean heritage require this arts enrichment project over the other children in the school? Does he believe that this group are not exposed to the arts in comparison to the other children? Does he believe that this group of children underachieve and what would be his reasons, if this is his belief?  These children are of primary age. Surely, it is too soon to be making value judgements about their performance? This demonstrates covert racism which must be addressed. These questions have not yet been answered. The last email we received from the Head was disappointing and demonstrated his lack of sensitivity, understanding and awareness of the question of race. We could not justify sending our child to a school which clearly does not listen to the concerns of the parents.

Since we have given notice and withdrawn our child from the School, we have had no acknowledgement or apology from the Head. On the other hand we have received support and understanding from the parents of other children in the class from all backgrounds.

Our conclusion in the last letter we wrote to the governors reads as follows.

  1. We believe that it is not necessary in primary school to segregate children on the basis of the colour of their skin, texture of their hair and ethnic background. In a school where all teachers in positions of authority are white with the exception of the Sports teacher, we believe that this has resulted in unconscious bias and racism. When asking our child, what she thought about black children from Caribbean backgrounds being chosen, her answer was “Why?” Do not underestimate the wisdom of children.
  2. We believe that in segregating children; unnecessary judgements will be made. We have concluded that segregation was entirely based on skin colour, and hair texture which is appalling,
  3. Whilst we agree that the arts is a great vehicle for the empowerment of children, we believe that all children can benefit.
  4. We believe that all children could benefit from having more representation of different racial backgrounds amongst authority figures. It would be of benefit to prioritise visiting teachers from a variety of backgrounds.
  5. We would like the Head to understand that there are allowances for one mistake to happen, and we were very generous with our time and energy the first-time round in 2019.  We should not have to be continually fighting the same argument two years later.
  6. The sports teacher was ccd into the email conversation between myself and the head. We are concerned that being the only Black member of Staff, (aside from helpers), he has been the head’s go to person.  We have seen this in other contexts, and we don’t believe that awareness of all things race should fall on the shoulders of one person. It is not fair nor ethical. He is employed as a sports teacher not as a consultant regarding race.

We hope that our concerns are taken seriously. It is important that awareness is raised regarding the segregating and separating of our children. We don’t understand how a Diversity and Inclusion group, can have endorsed this project. We were not aware of this group’s existence, and we again believe that transparency is obviously a trait that is lacking.



[1] ( from the letter that was sent after the school was rumbled) You are right that it isn’t a coincidence that all of the children invited to take part in the project this year are children of black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

As I am sure you are aware, attainment of BAME children is a significant concern, both nationally and locally. Therefore, raising the attainment of BAME children, as a group, is a priority area on the school’s development plan for this year. As a result, we have taken the decision to positively discriminate for all children within this group at Highgate Primary. Our aim is for our BAME children to over attain, rather than under attain. ……………………………I wish that every child at school could have a Lullaby written for them, but in the meantime, will do all I can to make sure the project continues so we can include as many children as possible.

[2]  Please refer to the article https://schoolsweek.co.uk/focus-on-white-pupils-hides-ethnic-minority-under-achievement/ where it is explained how BAME does not work entirely or take into consideration groups of children that over achieve. Government statistics show that there are discrepancies between Black Communities and that overall Chinese students are doing better than all other ethnic groups.

[3] Decades of research into Self Fulfilling prophecies show that teachers expectations can adversely affect students. In terms of black students, please look at this article: “White teachers are generally less optimistic about their black students’ chances of obtaining a four-year degree than black teachers, a new study finds. And those lowered expectations could become “self-fulfilling prophecies” when students internalize them or when teachers change their approach to students as a result, researchers suggest in an article published in Education Next.” From https://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rulesforengagement/2017/10/teachers_lower_expectations_for_black_students_may_become_self-fulfilling_prophecies_researchers_say.html

[4]  Please refer to this study:  Although it is based in the United States, there is no reason to believe that it would be a different scenario in the UK https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0201696

[5] https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/thelondonlucumichoir3

[6] https://vimeo.com/178335641

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